Lunch and Dinner

Bacon Fried Rice

Turkey Bacon Fried Rice

I saw this recipe for Bacon Fried Rice on Shutterbean. I’m usually a little dismissive when it comes to Western takes on Chinese food, because you know, that’s my cuisine and my peoples. But how can one not be enticed by Bacon Fried Rice? I mean, bacon. Fried. Rice. All three words sound delicious.

Unfortunately, my go-to store ran out of organic bacon and non-organic supermarket meat scares me, so I had to settle for turkey bacon. It still came out tasty, but it was definitely lacking that little kick the bacon grease would have given it. Go check out the recipe on Shutterbean, it’s good stuff. My only suggestion would be to julienne the carrots and stir-fry them with the veggies, but that’s just ’cause I hate raw carrots. Can’t wait to try this again with real bacon!

bacon fried rice

Party Food

Feeding A Crowd: Smoky Bacon Mac And Cheese

smoky bacon mac and cheese

I’ve been lurking on the community-driven website, Food52, for a long time now. I’ve found some wonderful recipes there and have enjoyed the editorial content, but I never participated other than leaving a comment or two. But the other day, I noticed their recipe contest for Your Best Cheap Feast. It was high time I submit my own recipe, even if it was just as an excuse to put it in writing.

I came up with this Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese when I was competing in that All-American Cook-Off with Paula. I was inspired by A Cozy Kitchen’s Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese, but thought bacon and scallions might make it even better. And then at the last second decided, oh what the heck, let’s throw in some smoked paprika too and take the smokiness to the next level. It worked out really well! Even though I didn’t win the actual cook-off, I received many compliments on the mac and cheese.

So if you ever need a simple, inexpensive dish to serve a lot of people, here it is. My Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese. Or if you’re already on Food52, you can save it here. It’s sinfully delicious…just don’t be like me by eating it in place of a balanced meal. I’ve been trying to avoid buying food before I leave for vacation. San Francisco, here I come!

smoky bacon mac and cheese dish

Smoky Bacon Mac and Cheese

Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

1 lb package elbow macaroni
5 slices bacon, cut crosswise into small strips
5 scallions, white and green parts chopped and separated
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
8-oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated and divided (about 2 cups)
8-oz smoked gouda cheese, grated and divided (about 2 cups)

Preheat oven to 400. Lightly grease an 8 x 11 x 2 baking dish.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon until it is browned and the fat is rendered, about 10 minutes. Throw in the white part of the scallions with the bacon for the last 3 minutes of cooking, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Continue whisking while gradually adding the milk one cup at a time. Cook for 5 minutes until thickened. Reduce heat to low and stir in salt, black pepper, and most of the cheese, reserving about a cup of cheese. Once the cheese has melted, remove from heat and stir in the bacon and scallion mixture, as well as the green part of the scallions.

Pour the pasta in the greased baking dish. Spoon the cheese sauce over the pasta, stirring to even out the sauce in the pan. Sprinkle the remaining cup of cheese on top, then sprinkle the smoked paprika over the cheese. Bake for 20 minutes until hot and bubbly


Joy the Baker’s Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies

joy the baker book

I said a while ago that I was going to rely more on my cookbook collection rather than the internet for recipe inspiration. Err, that didn’t happen too often. Oops. But I’m ready to recommit to this plan. Now I have extra motivation–I’m relocating in a few months and I won’t be able to take most of my books with me. Sad! I’ll have to make good use of them while I can.

I have a not-so-secret love for the Joy the Baker blog, as well as Joy’s podcast. (I also have a not-so-secret OBSESSION with podcasts in general. It’s a sickness, really.) Ironically, I’ve owned Joy’s book for a while now and had only made one of the recipes. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that all her recipes are sinfully delicious, and I’m convinced I won’t be able to stop myself from inhaling it all. But last month I decided to give this book the attention it deserves and made a few more of the recipes.

So far, my favorite has been her Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies. They are to die for. And, though far from being healthy, I like that they don’t have flour. It’s nice to switch it up in the kitchen like that, you know? They’re the perfect dessert for dudes, too. Well, who doesn’t love peanut butter and bacon?! Oh yeah…my vegetarian friend with a peanut allergy. But everyone else will love them, so go make a batch now!

Peanut butter bacon cookies

Lunch and Dinner

The Bloody Mary, Now In Salad Form!

I’m not sure when or how my love affair with Bloody Marys started. But knowing me, having a vegetable as the base of this lovely cocktail probably has a little something to do with it. I share this Bloody Mary passion with my boyfriend. One day he came up with an ingenious idea: how about I make a Bloody Mary salad? What a fantastic plan, an edible version of our favorite drink!

But like most would-be super original ideas, the internet rained on our parade, letting us know that loads of people had already thought of it. I was bummed for about two seconds, but with the knowledge that it has been done and it works, I felt more driven than ever to make a Bloody Mary Salad. I made mine like how my boyfriend makes a Bloody Mary–with olives and bacon. Pair this salad with a stiff Bloody Mary. Awww yeah. Cheers!

Bloody Mary Salad
Makes 1 main course, or 2 appetizers

Adapted from Running with Tweezers

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon prepared Horseradish
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of ground celery seed (optional)
Salt and pepper
2 slices of bacon
2 large handful of your favorite salad greens
4 ounces blue cheese, sliced
1/2 cup sliced, pitted green olives
2 stalks celery, sliced crosswise (save the leaves for garnish)

In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, a dash or two of Tabasco,  lemon juice and zest, and optional celery seed. Stir to coat all tomatoes with marinade. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.

Place bacon in a large skillet and heat it up over medium-high heat. When bacon begins to brown and curl, flip over and cook until both sides are done. Transfer bacon to a paper towel covered plate. Set aside.

When ready to serve, start with your salad greens on your plate. Then top with sliced blue cheese, olives, and sliced celery. Crumble the bacon over the salad. Finally, add the tomato mixture and drizzle remaining marinade over the top. Garnish with celery leaves and serve immediately.

Lunch and Dinner

Spaghetti with Mushrooms and Pine Nuts

I’ll be the first to admit it. Mushrooms are weird. They grow in the strangest places and conditions. They’re funny looking. And something about eating fungi is just not sexy. Yet they are low in calories, rich in nutrients, and one of the rare foods that are a natural source of Vitamin D. Mushrooms are pretty darn tasty too.

Usually used as a garnish, mushrooms often feel more like an afterthought than the star of a dish. But let’s change that. In an effort to get my ‘shroom on more often, I’m trying to think of more mushroom-based recipes. The easiest option is probably making a nice, clean mushroom burger. Or, The Stonesoup’s Anti-Cancer Mushroom Soup looks good and is on my to-make list. But this week, I made mushroom spaghetti.

I was delighted to find an Open Lasagna of Mushrooms, Pine Nuts and Thyme recipe in The Produce Bible (Amazon affiliate program link) by Leanna Kitchen. Her real last name surely can’t be Kitchen…can it?! Anyhow. I found the idea of an open lasagna too fussy, plus I had spaghetti on hand, so I adapted her recipe to make this lovely dish. With bacon, mushrooms, and pecorino cheese, it’s like an umami bomb in your mouth. Ohhhh yeah.

Spaghetti with Mushrooms and Pine Nuts
Makes 4 servings

Adapted from The Produce Bible by Leanne Kitchen

1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cups your favorite assorted mushrooms, cut into bite-sized pieces
3 slices of bacon, cut into pieces of similar size to the mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
4 tablespoons pine nuts
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pecorino cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Put spaghetti in and boil for about 10-11 minutes uncovered, until al dente. You can start the next steps while spaghetti is boiling, but remember to drain pasta as soon as it is done.

Heat the butter in a large pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Heat up another small, dry skillet over low heat and toss the pine nuts in. Add the mushrooms and bacon to the large pan and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until golden brown, stirring often. Simultaneously, shake the skillet with the pine nuts frequently to ensure even browning.

Add the garlic and thyme into the pan with the mushrooms and cook for a minute. If your pan is looking very watery, carefully pour out some of the liquid. Then take the pine nuts off the heat and add them to the mushrooms along with the heavy cream and extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste, taking into account that you will be topping this with salty pecorino. Stir to combine. Remove from heat.

Divide the spaghetti into 4 servings and evenly distribute the mushroom mixture over the servings of spaghetti. Top each with a generous amount of freshly grated pecorino and serve.

Book Review

Book Review: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

I’m going to go ahead and admit I’m totally new to the foodie scene. I don’t know most famous chefs, cooking TV shows personalities, or food writers. Though I had heard of Ruth Reichl, I didn’t know anything about her career or what to expect from her memoir, Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Food Critic (my Amazon affiliate program link).

It appears that the general pitch as to why you should read this book is because of all the strange disguises and characters Ruth Reichl would create to avoid being recognized in New York City restaurants while she worked as The New York Times’ restaurant critic in the 1990s. While they were entertaining, I felt like there was so much more to the book than that. Reichl is a great story teller and she really pulls the reader in, even if you don’t know the first thing about the restaurants or food she’s talking about. Sprinkled throughout her memoir are the actual reviews she wrote for The New York Times, as well as unpretentious recipes for everyday home cooking. You might think being paid to eat at fancy restaurants is the best job ever (like I did), but Garlic and Sapphires is a thoughtful reflection on elitism, office politics, and one woman’s struggle with finding her real priorities and passions.

Reichl included a recipe for spaghetti carbonara, which is such a classic, yet I’ve surprisingly only had it once! And as much as I’d like to get my pork jowl on, I already had bacon in the fridge so I followed her lead and used that instead. So simple but so tasty.

On an unrelated note, this book reminded me of that 80s Steve Martin movie, The Lonely Guy. If my memory serves me correctly, his lonely guy buddy tells him he can eat out at restaurants by himself if he pretends he’s a restaurant critic. A silly movie, but I like this scene when he first walks into the restaurant:

Please check out the book club I joined, The Kitchen Reader, and Marian’s blog, Spelt for Choice.

Health and Nutrition

How Bad is Bacon, Really?

Bacon is so hot right now. Or did it never go out of fashion? Either way, a friend called it “the crack of food”. It’s so ridiculously delicious. From breakfast to baked goods to Bloody Marys, it pretty much makes everything taste better. But most of America still looks at bacon and thinks “heart attack”. I’ve heard things along the lines of, “every strip of bacon you eat takes a day off your life”.

On one hand, yes, there is some scary stuff when it comes to bacon. Most of bacon’s calories come from fat, almost half of which is saturated. It is popular belief that eating foods rich in saturated fats can raise your cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of heart disease and stroke. Processed meats are also said to increase the risk of certain cancers and diseases, possibly because of nitrates and carcinogenic PAH compounds.

On the other hand, I’ve always thought that quality bacon in moderation can’t be too unhealthy. Though I know cured meat isn’t as good for you as fresh meat, real food that you cook is still better than heavily processed crap, right? It’s like red meat, cheese, and butter. These are natural foods that can be part of a healthy diet, yet “health-conscious” Americans avoid them like the plague and replace them with processed foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce.  Something is wrong with that picture. Also, I’m not 100% sure about the heart attack thing either. From Summer Tomato: “…a direct causal relationship between saturated fat and heart disease has never been established. Moreover, evidence is accumulating that cholesterol in general is not the best predictor of heart disease and that refined carbohydrates are a bigger problem.”

Bear in mind I am neither a scientist or nutritionist, so don’t bet your life on my shallow research. But in my opinion, bacon is not the worse thing for you. Like everything, moderation is key–bacon isn’t meant to be a main course. As long as most of the food you are eating is nutritious, I’d say a little bacon here and there is totally fine. I often use small amounts of it to enhance otherwise healthy dishes (examples here and here). Also, try to purchase better quality bacon, either from the farmers market or a health food store. Have your bacon and eat it too!

Note: It doesn’t matter how manly you are, this is not how you should eat bacon.

Lunch and Dinner

Spring Time Comfort Food: Mashed Sweet Potato

April was definitely a sweet potato month for me. Spring arrived, but let’s be real. It was damn cold several days this month, and there weren’t nearly enough Spring goodies at the farmers market (though I was delighted at the arrival of spinach). But sweet potato is amazing anytime of year.

I had never heard of Irish colcannon, but when I saw this healthier adaption of it, I had to whip some up for myself. Mashed sweet potato with kale mixed in, topped with crumbled crispy bacon, fresh rosemary, and a nice pat of butter…heaven. I made a meal out of it.

Party Food

Rusty Chef Cook-Off Round 3: Mexican-Inspired Eats

On Sunday March 11th, I, Chef Snake VK, competed with my buddy and former roommate, Katie (aka Chef KoHo) to see who could whip up the best Mexican-inspired three course meal. AND THEN WE FOUGHT TO THE DEATH.

OK we didn’t fight to the death. We couldn’t even look angry at each other in this photo. A little background: my boyfriend’s roomie, Chef Homeboyardee, challenged me to a cook-off late last year. We had a blast and the scores were close, but I ultimately won that round. He challenged me to a rematch. I won again. Chef KoHo, who was participating as a judge, challenged me to Round 3. We decided on a cuisine that neither of us knew much about but liked to eat: Mexican. The event went down at my place. We had seven guests/judges armed with bottles of wine and a huge appetite.

Chef Snake VK’s Entries (me)

Bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with cheddar, cream cheese, and scallions. Clearly not authentic but hey, we said Mexican-inspired, right? Get the awesome recipe here.

Slow-cooked Chili El Pastor–a recipe I got from Food52. The first time I bought a whole pineapple…fun!

I found this recipe for Caballeros Ricos while Googling Mexican desserts. Described as a bread pudding souffle, I found it more to be a baked French toast kinda dish. But dang, that almonds and cinnamon syrup was delicious.

Chef KoHo’s Entries (the competition)

Chef KoHo’s approach was to cook a mexican-inspired dinner using ingredients many people can find in the bodega or supermarket. And to cook it quickly, in case somebody has work.

Elote w/ spicy lime mayo, crumbled white cheese and chili powder

Beer & chocolate braised pulled pork tacos w/radish & lettuce slaw.

Chili chocolate pudding with cinnamon whipped topping.

The wine was flowing…

…and the judges judged…

…but finally, I WON. Barely. (Chef KoHo reminded me to emphasize the word “barely”.) But hey, a victory is a victory! But clearly, the true winners were the guests who got to eat two three-course meals without lifting a finger :) All in all, a fantastic, delicious night.

Local Food, Lunch and Dinner

Eating with the Seasons

I’m currently reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. (Loving it so far. Pick up a copy.) It’s about her family’s story of how they committed to eat local for one year. They only consumed what they bought raised in their own neighborhood or grew themselves, and learned to pretty much live without the rest.

The idea wasn’t new to me–I’m an advocate for local food, and both volunteer and shop at farmers markets. I know I’ll never take it to the extreme that Kingsolver did, but I felt good that I bought local more than most people do. What was new to me was the thought of living without what you can’t get locally. I shop based on what recipe I want to make, meaning I’ll buy what happens to be available at the farmers market and get the rest from the health food store, not caring where it traveled from nor whether or not it’s in season.

Inspired by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I’ve decided to commit a little further to local food. Or at least get in the habit of eating with the seasons. We’re currently getting this bizarre hot weather for March here in NYC. I left work on Tuesday feeling like it was a summer’s evening. I kept imagining going home and making myself a big sexy plate of salad greens and lots of juicy raw tomatoes, with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I loooove tomatoes. They’re my fave. But then I thought of the book and it occurred to me that it wasn’t remotely close to tomato season here in New York. I wanted a tomato, and while I could technically get one, it was grown far, far away. I would go without that night.

You know what is in season, though? Kale. I adapted this recipe from the Kitchn using kale instead of collard greens. I cooked it up with onion and bacon while I simultaneously made some leftover quick-cooking polenta I had in the cupboard. I topped the polenta with the kale and bacon mixture and a fried egg, threw some parmesan and a few drops of hot sauce on top, and had an extremely satisfying meal. This is a well-balanced dish (especially if you’re generous with the kale), and would make a delicious breakfast too.

I see why they call it food porn. It feels so dirty getting all up in my dish to snap sexy pictures of her bits.

I’ve gotten rid of everything on my to-make recipe list that isn’t mainly comprised of food I can get locally right now. Moving forward, I’m planning the recipes around the produce and not vice versa. No, not all parts of this meal was local, and yes I will probably end up buying a tomato or two next winter. But hey, it’s a start.